Risk and courage

Introduction Text:
Where would we be if people didn’t take risks or do something slightly different? Whilst the festive season has been a time of celebration, it’s also been a time of reflection on what has happened in the previous year and what we hope the next will hold.

It is evident that now, there’s a need for bravery and measured risk-taking to ensure we survive and thrive within the NHS. I understand the challenges facing care services in the UK and the monumental effort being put in by frontline staff to keep the tanker afloat. However the horizon may not always be what you expect it to be.

2014 was a hugely significant year for me professionally as well as personally. A year ago my wife and I had our first Christmas with our new-born daughter, and since then I have seen her learn to sit, crawl, stand, walk and talk. I love parenthood – it does change your life forever.

For three years, I’d been working as a business manager in a Trust that had recently been acquired. Organisational changes and an inability to recruit had seen me covering a number of roles and reporting into multiple line managers. I was spending my time managing expectations and being pulled in a number of different directions. I was ready for a change but had the comfort of being in a job I could do, and do well.

In January 2014 I saw a fixed-term opportunity to manage the NHS Executive Fast-Track programme at the NHS Leadership Academy. I knew some things about the Academy being a former Graduate Trainee and I recognised, empathised and understood the Academy’s key values and could see that they closely linked to my own. Though it was very different from my current role, I applied.

I started in March 2014. A baptism of fire might be putting it lightly; my first day was the first of a week’s worth of intensive assessment centres for the Fast-Track programme. 13 weeks later the successful participants would be starting their executive education in Harvard. Some would be leaving a career in the private-sector; others would be seconded into a new organisation for the duration of the programme, all with the aspiration of gaining more senior roles. And I soon realised that there was a lot to do in a very short space of time.

On my third day I met with my line-manager and was asked to lead on the Frontline programme, a task that included recruiting 5,000 participants over 100 cohorts and over 300 venue bookings. I said yes.

But it was a tough decision to make. It took me out of my comfort zone and gave me the opportunity to make myself indispensable. I accepted that posed a massive risk to me and there could be consequences if I failed. Over ten months into my role, where am I now, what have I seen and was the risk worth taking?

I have communicated with 1000’s of people and built relationships across the country and beyond. I have been exposed to a large number of organisations and now understand the system far more clearly than I ever did before.

I have learnt more about myself, my strengths and weaknesses, areas for development and my capability than I ever expected and as a result have become more skilled in my approach. I have been exposed to some of the most inspirational people I have ever met, and had the pleasure of working closely with some of those individuals. I have made some great friends, grown my professional network and opened my eyes to a career beyond the obvious path.

I have had to be brave and honest on a regular basis, frequently managing changing demands and expectations whilst managing a large number of relationships. I have regularly given feedback to and challenged participants on the Fast-Track programme; this has not been easy especially considering the difference in seniority and experience but has been necessary.

More senior roles did come up in my last organisation, and who knows, perhaps I may have got one of those roles. And I may be wrong, but I doubt I’d have learnt anywhere near what I have done had I stayed. I have learnt that the obvious path isn’t always the one that will give you the most benefit, and opportunity appears in the strangest of places.

This year I see as being equally exciting. Over 31,000 people have now registered on our programmes. We are reaching a new point in our journey as an organisation and with that, there will be new challenges. On a personal note, my daughter will continue to develop her speech, count and do other wonderful things that parenthood gives you a front row ticket to watch, and I am incredibly excited.

What will this year hold in store for you? Will you take risks on a route that is unclear, or take a route that many before you have trodden and known?

3 replies on “Risk and courage”

  • Hi Sam
    I enjoyed reading your journey it is inspirational and exciting. Very courageous of you to change course yet remained true to your values. You have made a difference because you have been part of someone else’s leadership journey

    Agnes Leopold-James
  • Hi Agnes,
    Thank you for your kind comments. I am glad that you enjoyed reading.
    I am sure this will be the first of many blogs!

    Sam Peate Contributor
  • Hi Sam – I just came across this. It made me think about the challenge you face of interacting with so many people – a huge amount of work, especially when you cannot give them all what they want. Facilitating and support roles are like that, you can never keep everyone happy.

    If you ever get the chance it would be great to hear how you do this? I can imagine that you have floods of emails, would need to prioritise heavily but also have to accept that your work is heavily related to influencing skills as the results you are hoping to achieve are all via others. It is quite a unique role.

    Do write more please.

    Best wishes


    Mary Black

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